Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’
Exclusive: Abuse and exploitation of migrant workers preparing emirate for 2022
- The Guardian, Wednesday 25 September 2013 12.46 EDT
Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.
According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.
The investigation also reveals:
• Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.
• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.
• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.
• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.
• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.
The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world’s most popular sporting tournament.
“We’d like to leave, but the company won’t let us,” said one Nepalese migrant employed at Lusail City development, a $45bn (£28bn) city being built from scratch which will include the 90,000-seater stadium that will host the World Cup final. “I’m angry about how this company is treating us, but we’re helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we’ve had no luck.”
The body tasked with organizing the World Cup, the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, told the Guardian that work had yet to begin on projects directly related to the World Cup. However, it said it was “deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness”. It added: “We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.”
The Guardian’s investigation also found men throughout the wider Qatari construction industry sleeping 12 to a room in places and getting sick through repulsive conditions in filthy hostels. Some say they have been forced to work without pay and left begging for food.
“We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours’ work and then no food all night,” said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.”
Almost all migrant workers have huge debts from Nepal, accrued in order to pay recruitment agents for their jobs. The obligation to repay these debts, combined with the non-payment of wages, confiscation of documents and inability of workers to leave their place of work, constitute forced labour, a form of modern-day slavery estimated to affect up to 21 million people across the globe. So entrenched is this exploitation that the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, recently described the emirate as an “open jail”.
“The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar,” said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, which was founded in 1839. “In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening.”
Qatar has the highest ratio of migrant workers to domestic population in the world: more than 90% of the workforce are immigrants and the country is expected to recruit up to 1.5 million more labourers to build the stadiums, roads, ports and hotels needed for the tournament. Nepalese account for about 40% of migrant labourers in Qatar. More than 100,000 Nepalese left for the emirate last year.
The murky system of recruitment brokers in Asia and labour contractors in Qatar leaves them vulnerable to exploitation. The supreme committee has insisted that decent labour standards will be set for all World Cup contracts, but underneath it a complex web of project managers, construction firms and labour suppliers, employment contractors and recruitment agents operate.
Qatar World Cup ‘slaves’: the official response
The company behind the Lusail City development, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organising committee and the labour ministry respond to allegations of worker exploitation
- theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 September 2013 12.00 EDT
Lusail Real Estate Development Company:
Lusail City will not tolerate breaches of labour or health and safety law. We continually instruct our contractors and their subcontractors of our expectations and their contractual obligations to both us and individual employees.
We are extremely concerned at the allegations highlighted to us. Lusail employs, directly and via subcontractors, over 20,000 people. We value each employee.
All of our subcontractors are legally obliged to meet, as a minimum, Qatar labour law. In addition, Lusail expects our subcontractors to go beyond the law in the protection of individual employees both in health & safety and labour law.
The vast majority of contractors exceed these requirements and are delivering global best practice.
The Guardian have highlighted potentially illegal activities employed by one subcontractor. We take these allegations very seriously and have referred the allegations to the appropriate authorities for investigation. Based on this investigation, we will take appropriate action against any individual or company who has found to have broken the law or contract with us.
A company spokesperson
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee (Q22) is deeply concerned with the allegations that have been made against certain contractors/sub-contractors working on Lusail City’s construction site and considers this issue to be of the utmost seriousness. We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations.
While construction on work relating directly to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar has not yet commenced, we have always believed that hosting the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar could be the catalyst for positive change, particularly for accelerating human and social development in Qatar. We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity. This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
The Qatar 2022 Workers’ Charter is available to the public and is provided to all of our potential contractors. Q22’s Workers’ Charter is just the first step in our overall strategy for improving workers’ welfare in Qatar.
Clauses protecting the rights of workers on Q22 projects will be enshrined in our contracts and will supplement all relevant Qatari laws by taking additional steps that Q22 has identified in order to enhance the welfare of our workers. We are driven by transparency in setting up our standards, which will include a robust enforcement and monitoring mechanism.
We are working with international NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. We also maintain an open channel of dialogue with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on these issues, via close consultation with the Ministry of Labour and other relevant government agencies.
Q22 is also working with Qatar’s Human Rights Co-ordination Committee (QHRCC) which consists of representatives from Q22, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, Qatar Foundation for Human Trafficking, Qatar Foundation for Child and Women Protection, the Follow up and Search Unit of the Ministry of Interior, and the National Human Rights Committee. We are committed with the government to address these issues.
Answers to the Guardian’s questions to the Qatar labour ministry
Are the authorities aware of the numbers of Nepalese dying on their construction sites?
According to article 48 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall record injuries incurred by any of its employees.”
According to article 108 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “If the worker dies while on duty or because of the work or sustains a work injury the employer or his representative shall immediately notify the police and the department of the incident.
“The notification shall include the name, age, profession, address and nationality of the worker and a brief description of the incident, the circumstance where it took place and the actions taken for aiding or curing the worker.
“The police shall upon receipt of the information undertake the necessary enquiries and the record shall contain the statements of the witnesses and the employer or his representative and the statements of the injured if his condition so permits and the record shall explain the relationship of the incident to the work.
“The police shall upon completion of the inquiry send a copy of the record to the department and a copy to the employer. The Department may require completion of the enquiry if it deems necessary.”
According to article 115 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The employer shall every six months provide the department with a statistics of the work injuries and occupational diseases in accordance with the forms prepared for this purpose and the procedures to be prescribed by a decision of the minister.
According to article 105 of Qatar Labour Law, No.14 of 2004: “The periodical medical check-ups shall be carried out on the workers exposed to the dangers of inflication with the vocational diseases in all activities of the work at intervals appropriate to the hazards involved in the work in accordance with the measures to be specified by the competent authorities specifying the types of such check-ups and the intervals in which they shall be carried out.
Azfar Khan of the International Labour Organisation on Qatar and the World Cup
Published on Sep 27, 2013
Azfar Khan of the International Labour Organisation on Qatar and the World Cup
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Azfar Khan, the ILO’s senior labour migration adviser in the Arab states, tells the Guardian that Qatar is failing to fully implement an international convention banning the use of forced labour ahead of the 2022 football World Cup